Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Rejoin?

Happy New Year.

I have had a pretty typical Christmas. Ate lot of food, drank a lot of wine, watched a lot of telly, read a lot of books. Even had the traditional festive breakdown of the central heating at one point.

But I have also had an anxious Christmas.

For on the 21st, in between juggling last minute court commitments and last minute Christmas presents, I spoke at length to a friend who, before the Tsunami of 2015, had been a very senior Labour MP. I expressed my concern that the split between those who, on the one hand, accepted the result of the 2016 Referendum but wanted the softest of Brexits and those who, on the other, wanted to re-run the referendum in hope of a different result was slowly but steadily leading us to the disaster of a no deal departure. Those who follow my blog will know that this is not a new concern of mine.

I suspected my interlocutor would be in the "People's vote" camp and I hoped he would enlighten me as to what I had missed as to how, without control of the machinery of government, such a contest could possibly be brought about. Or indeed how the People's Voters might gain control of the machinery of Government. He didn't reassure me, for he was equally bemused as to any possible strategy that would deliver a Government based, on the most optimistic of numbers, on a hundred or so Labour MPs prepared to break the whip, allying with fifty or so Tories and sixty or so others. In a parliament of six hundred and fifty. Nor could he explain how normally rational "centrist" politicians thought that they ever might achieve such an outcome. But, with the benefit of far better political contacts than I, he was, if anything, even more fatalistic than me about the prospect of this, or indeed anything else, stopping a hard Brexit. He confessed that he kept encountering people within the "permanent" government who found it inexcusable and indeed almost inconceivable that "the Country" would be allowed to indulge in such a monumental act of self harm but yet that none of them could explain how such a thing might be stopped. For the only deal on the table, Mrs May's deal had, in his opinion, no chance of succeeding against the perverse coalition of interests: "People's Voters"; the ERG; disaster wishing Trotskyists and whipped Labour loyalists all arraigned against it. And the law of the land, already enacted, is that if there was no deal then we would leave on 29th March. Without a deal.

Now, I have said all this before but at the risk of repeating myself, the likes of Amber Rudd can say all they like about there being "no majority in the House of Commons for a hard Brexit" but, with respect, if there is no majority for any specific deal, then , starting from where we are legislatively, then there is, by logical conclusion, a majority in the House of Commons for a hard Brexit. FOR THERE IS ONLY ONE ALTERNATIVE ACTUALLY ON OFFER!!!! (apologies for shouting) and what is perceived to be wrong with that deal is not solvable in a way which somehow magically changes the Parliamentary Arithmetic. Setting aside the diplomatic obstacles to somehow getting a fix on the backstop (and, given that any fix would involve the UK Government having the unilateral right to close the Irish Border at a future time of their choosing, these obstacles are substantial), fixing the backstop still does not deliver the hard core votes of the most extreme ERGers, for they do not wish any deal. Yet, without their votes, the deal can't pass on Tory votes alone. Equally, given it would still be a deal to leave without a clear future direction of travel, it is questionable if it would deliver a hard core of Tory Remainers either. Corbyn positively wants chaos in the hope that people would embrace "socialism" as the only alternative to chaos and no deal certainly delivers chaos. While the Labour whipped loyalists will just do whatever Corbyn wants. Partly out of Party loyalty and partly out of otherwise fear for their own future at the hands of his ultras in their constituencies.

But the problem for the people who hold the key to this, the sensible, pro European, non self serving and hoping of personal survival, majority in the Parliamentary Labour Party, is this. Like the remainer Tories, they don't want to be seen to have voted for Brexit. Even more so in the current internal Party climate. Where to have done so would be portrayed by the Corbynistas as having prevented their wholly illusory hope of a General Election and even more illusory hope that, without any coherent Brexit policy,  this would be a General Election Labour might win. And it is also not lost on them that they face the irony of being caricatured as the handmaidens of Brexit, against a future portrayal that Corbyn, (Corbyn!) had somehow voted against. Not against the deal but against the whole enterprise.

But that is what needs to happen.

But it is not all that needs to happen.

British politics is fractured.

Sometime between February and October this year, I will have been a member of the Labour Party for forty five years. The Party I joined represented the interests of people who had little money and wanted a wanted a fairer share, allied with those of broadly liberal sentiment on social issues. Our principal opponents represented the interests of people who already had money and wanted to keep it in coalition in turn with those more generally resistant to cultural change. That is not however the political divide today. The political divide today however is between those who wish to look forward and those who want to look back. Look back not just to naval bases east of Suez, a Bobby on every corner, people knowing their place in life and the civilised world stopping at Dover. But also look back to British jobs for British workers, with local schools in local towns discharging generation after generation to work in local factories or the local presence of monolithic  nationalised industries.Both of these worlds have gone and no opportunistic political parasites from either extreme of the political divide are, in the end, going to bring them back.

Yet that was how the Brexit Referendum realigned our politics. Bringing about a coalition of different perceived versions the past that created a common objective between Jacob Rees-Mogg and (in truth) Jeremy Corbyn to go, literally, back in time. An objective they continue to share.

But, no matter whether we like it or not on 23rd June 2016 it was "the will of the people" that we leave and I have always had reservations about the consequences of not implementing that "will". Mrs May's deal does that. Having voted to leave, we will have left. But thereafter anything is possible. And, it having been disastrous to leave, why would it not be sensible to rejoin? Nothing in the Withdrawal Agreement prevents that and in truth our current opt-outs, on the Rebate, from Schengen, from the Euro, would surely still be on the table while we remained a net budget contributor.

So that's where I think the argument should go. Take the only deal on offer now but then campaign for the eventual outcome of the trade talks which are to follow to be rejoining. It is difficult to see that ever being something Corbyn personally would endorse but it is certainly something I can conceive becoming Labour Party policy. And if it doesn't? If the current cult of personality gripping my Party proves too hard to overcome? Then perhaps some other Party might be needed to take it forward. A Party that might, if Mrs May ultimately falls to a candidate of the Tory hard right, find it had other willing allies on hand. "Rejoin the Future" has a nice ring to it.


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